How to Run a User Story Workshop

This post is a part of a series: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About User Stories But Were Afraid To AskWorkShop

Running a hands-on user story workshop is one of the most valuable skills a product owner can learn.

7 Steps to a successful User Story Workshop

Step 1:  Form a group of 3-5 people who understand the purpose of the product

3-5 seems to be the magic number. Any less and you might miss some ideas.  Any more, and it slows the process down as well as diminishing returns on the quality of ideas generated.

Let the team to come up with a vision of own dream product. Propose to them that they write high level features for the vision. Clearly explain what you mean by a feature. (Example: Login page for a portal is not a feature). Take each feature and identify the high level requirements on color sticky notes.

Step 2:  Introduce the phrase “EPIC” and tell teams to break features into epics in different color sticky notes

Make a wall map and help the teams to paste the epics exactly below the features. When teams establish features and epics relationship, I would work with them to make team write high level requirements for each epic. Introduce User Story with an example and its intent. Help teams understand various formats of User stories. Convey the importance of identifying User Personas at this stage. Show some examples of splitting user stories. Give few guidelines of dos and don’ts as well as pitfalls and traps when writing user stories.

Step 3:  Start the exercise by asking teams to write high level one liner as requirements for each epic in silence

Each person takes the same colored post-it and silently writes down one user story per post-it. Once everyone has finished writing their post-its, have each person read their post-its aloud. If anyone has duplicates, consolidate.

Depending on the size of the epics it can take 3-10 minutes to get all the major user stories. You can watch the body language to see when teams are finished. You can observe that the group goes from huddled in at the beginning to standing/leaning back at the end. It is likely that each post-it starts with a verb. (eg. Compose E-mail, Create Contact, Add User, etc) which forms the “walking skeleton” of the map. Ask teams to stick all user stories exactly under the related epics. This might be their first ‘aha’ moment for silent brainstorming.

Step 4:  Ask the team to group the sticky notes in silence.

Ask team to move similar things close to each other and dissimilar moved farther. Use silent grouping  because it is faster than grouping them out loud. If duplicates are found, remove them. Groups will form naturally and fairly easily. Once again, body language will help you see when they are done – usually 2-5 minutes.

Step 5:  Introduce acceptance criteria with an example

Help teams write acceptance criteria for individual stories. Now talk about the non-functional requirements. Ask the team to come up with non-functional requirements for the same stories. Arrange all the stories on the wall, and help teams order them, ask them use slice the stories either by date or scope.

Step 6:  Explain sizing of stories using story points and help teams size all the stories

The product owner explains the sizing constraints and facilitates a  story points sizing exercise using planning poker with the team.

Step 7:  Take all the user stories into the first release, then start slicing stories to make them as thin as possible

This is so that the stakeholders get a solid understanding of vertical slices, and so that we will more accurately be able to measure progress.

I see there is lot of value and motivation when team s to come up with their own vision and write down the stories.  The essence of the workshop may be lost when I give pre-cooked user stories to the team. What do you think?





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